I was on Zoom this morning with my Mastermind Group and I was talking about a workshop idea for aspiring nonfiction authors who have a book idea, but they’re not ready to commit to it. They need to fine-tune the idea and see if it really has legs to be a book.
As I told them about the idea, the most interesting thing happened.
All four of these smart, creative, women coaches, each said they didn’t know if they had a book idea in them.
Not that they had an idea but were uncertain about it.
Not that they aspired to write a book someday, but just weren’t sure of the exact idea yet.
Not that they really want to write a book, but feel like they’re not really enough of a writer, or enough of an expert.
Nope. They weren’t questioning their ability to write a book, writing a book just wasn’t yet on their radar.
And here is where I pause and say that these four women are emerging thought leaders and experts in parenting, leadership, personal relationships and life transitions.
I have zero doubt that each and every one of them has a book inside her.
They work every day with their clients to help them improve their lives using unique processes they have personally developed. They have a point-of-view and they publish their expertise and insights through blogs, social media, and podcasts. They lead workshops, classes, and groups of all sizes. They share their ideas on stages and in interviews. Their clients and communities of followers look to them for their perspective and guidance.
What I heard from them was:
“Writing a book seems really overwhelming.”
“I heard Rachel Hollis holes up for two weeks at a time, doesn’t shower and only eats burritos when she writes her books. Writing a book sounds awful.”
“I don’t even know where to start. How long does it take?”
And here is where I had one of those Oprah aha moments.
Before you can even begin to think about writing a book, and seeing yourself as a future author, you need to develop a sense of what writing a nonfiction book entails.
Only then can you begin to see writing a book as part of your journey.
And to see writing a book as relevant to you — you need to have an accurate, up to date concept of what writing a nonfiction book is all about, right now, in 2020.
Let’s dig in.
The top questions and answers if you’re thinking about writing a nonfiction book.
- What kinds of people write nonfiction books?
- How do I get my nonfiction book published?
- What’s a book proposal and why should I care?
- If I think I might want to write a nonfiction book, what’s the first step?
- What’s the overall process to publishing a book?
Question #1: What kinds of people write nonfiction books?
Short answer: All kinds of people who have something to say.
Longer answer: Nonfiction includes everything from cookbooks, to travel guides, to history, business and personal development. And the people who write nonfiction books cover just as wide a range. People who are experts and thought-leaders in their fields. People who have a popular podcast or blog. People who are amateur chefs with a big social following. People who are academics and their field connects to something going on in popular culture right now.
Using the personal development category as an example – the types of people who publish in this space are experts and thought leaders in the space. But what does that really mean?
Let’s use the four coaches in my Mastermind Group, as they are perfect examples. They are experts in parenting, leadership, personal relationships and life transitions. They each work every day with their clients to help them improve these areas of their lives using unique processes they have personally developed. They publish their ideas and insights through blogs, social media, and podcasts. They lead workshops, classes, and groups small and large. Their clients and followers look to them for their perspective and guidance. They are thought-leaders in their worlds.
Question #2: How does a person go about publishing a nonfiction book?
Short answer: Depends on the path. There is traditional publishing which is publishing your book through a publishing house, and self-publishing, where you publish the book yourself. Neither path is right or wrong, there are a lot of factors involved.
Longer answer. The route you take will depend upon your subject matter, audience, and most importantly your objectives for your book.
Traditional publishing is the route where you will formally submit your book proposal to agents for consideration and if they decide to work with you they will send it out to publishing houses.
Self-publishing is what it sounds like. You handle everything yourself including distribution.
The newest addition to the field is hybrid-publishing which is self-publishing plus. You cover the costs to publish your book, but you also get a team of support to help you make it as successful as possible. There are a number of reputable hybrid publishers to consider.
I recommend you develop a thorough proposal for self or hybrid-publishing as it will help you exponentially in building the foundation for your book.
Question #3: What’s a book proposal and why should I care?
Short answer: A book proposal is a detailed document that is used to pitch a book idea to a literary agent. If an agent likes your idea they may offer to represent you and present your book idea to publishers.
Longer answer: A book proposal is like a business and marketing plan for your book. The proposal will likely be 50-70 pages, and will include one to two sample chapters showcasing your writing and author voice. Many people who write for a living find writing a book proposal to be daunting and challenging, despite their writing skill, because it’s such a specific type of format.
A book proposal is your entry into the traditional publishing world. It needs to be of the highest quality, and you should expect to spend at least six months developing it. Some authors of successful book proposals report having spent a year or more drafting, revising, polishing, and perfecting theirs — even when they already had an agent!
In addition to being your entry point to pitching, a strong, carefully crafted book proposal will make the writing of your actual book that much easier. A well-developed book proposal becomes the foundation for every aspect of your book and how you will market and how you will show up in the world with it.
Question #4: If I think I might want to write a nonfiction book, what’s the first step?
Short answer: If a book idea is calling your name, the first thing you want to do is spend some quality time digging into what your idea really is, who the audience for your book is, and why you are the essential person to write this book.
Longer answer: A book needs to have a clearly articulated reason for being. What’s “the point” of your book? What’s the argument you want to make with it? If your book were a bumper sticker what might it say? Once you’re uber clear on the point of your book — dig into the audience and what you want your reader to experience along the journey of reading your book. Think about where they start and where they finish. Think about why you are uniquely qualified and positioned to write this particular book. What other books are out there that are similar to yours? What’s your unique angle? And last but not least, try roughing out a table of contents — that will start to show you where your idea might be headed.
Once you’re clear on all of the above, you just might be ready for the next step which is to actually start developing your book proposal.
Question #5: What’s the overall process to publishing a book?
Short answer: Decide your path – traditional, self-publishing, or hybrid. Get clear on your idea, audience, and marketing plan. Develop your proposal. Then depending on your path you will either pitch your proposal to literary agents, put together a team of resources for self-publishing, or partner with a hybrid-publisher.
Longer-answer: The overall process to publishing is complex and has a lot of moving parts. Whether you opt to self-publish or go the traditional route, you are looking at a many months-long process. Traditional publishing could be a few years from starting your book proposal to pitching to selling your idea, to writing the book, to the actual publication and distribution of the book.
One of the reasons many of my clients come to me is the complexity of a book project. While a book coach helps hone and guide the book’s core idea — I also project manage the process helping you get from point A to B to C, and I support you emotionally. Writing a book proposal, pitching, and then writing a book and marketing it is HARD, and it’s likely to bring up all your sh*t.
So the overall process to publishing a book starts with honing your idea, then you develop your book proposal and draft and polish one to two chapters, then you research literary agents and select 10-25 to send your query letter and book proposal to, then you wait/hear back from one or some of those agents who may want to represent you, then once you select an agent she will likely ask you to revise your proposal before she will then send it out to publishers.
Once you sell your proposal to a publisher you may do some more fine-tuning, and then it’s time to write the book. You may have 6-12 months to write your book, and then it will be published about a year or longer later.
During that time of writing the book and waiting for publication, you’ll be building and communicating with your platform, getting the word out about your book, and formalizing your launch strategy. These days little support in this area will come from a publisher, it will likely all be on you to get support for your book.
Once your book is published and distributed you’ll continue executing on your marketing plan and being visible in the world with your book.
And by then, I suspect you’ll be in the midst of book proposal #2, and time to do it all over again!
So now you have an up-to-date understanding of who writes nonfiction books, the publishing process, and how to develop your book idea, and book proposal.
I personally believe that books are powerful, transformation tools for change.
I would love to see more people seeing themselves as aspiring authors, and ultimately published authors.
I would love to see more diverse voices out there. More women. More of you who didn’t ever really think you were “published author” material, become exactly that – published authors.
Reach out with your questions. Check out free resources like Writer’s Digest, Publishers Lunch, and Jane Friedman’s website to learn more about publishing. If you’re interested in learning more about hybrid-publishing, take a look at She Writes. Dan Blank has a wonderful weekly newsletter and podcast about marketing your book and developing your author platform.
Ready to get started on your book project? Grab my free Book Proposal Template and get going today!